Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” is usually discussed as a documentary, but I wonder if the movie isn’t ill-served by that conversation, which is simply too limiting to address the subtleties of Flaherty’s art. In focusing on issues of “actuality” and “representation,” we get mired in the dreariness of the academy, and tend to overlook Flaherty’s knack for condensing experience into images of lyrical and narrative power. I think it’s more appropriate to treat “Nanook” as an early example of movie humanism — as a foundational work in a tradition that includes Renoir, De Sica, and Satyajit Ray. For whatever the “reality” of the actions engaged in by Nanook and his companions, there’s genuine sympathy, even a kind of compassion, in how Flaherty shows them to us: as people distinguished as much by their familiarity as by their exoticism. In this scene — one of the film’s best — Nanook demonstrates the building of an igloo while his kids goof off. The sequence has the cool proficiency, as well as the free-floating air of surprise, of a crack Buster Keaton routine. You can feel Flaherty’s pleasure in getting this all on film. And Nanook — real name: Allakariallak — seems to be enjoying his performance. Film provided these men with a means of relating to one another.